Friday, February 6, 2015

Go see the Oscar nominated shorts!

It became my annual tradition to watch the Oscar nominated shorts as they hit my local arthouse theatre. Two hours of live action and two hours of animation played together in blocks make for four hours of a cinematic experience as I usually watch them in a row. I usually don't care as much for cartoons, especially since often they're in some modern, progressive style where every frame looks like it's individually colored by pencil to make the images vibrate. I love the live action ones though. I find to appreciate the short form much more as I don't have as much patience to sit through a two hour stretched out feature anymore. Shorts are less concerned with following a structure of a "movie" and focused instead on telling a good story. It can be as little as 15, 30, 40 minutes- the creator's imagination is endless and there's usually no unnecessary filler. It seems like the form allows them to experiment with themes and subjects and presentation as well, more so than a traditional "independent film" label allows. I wish shorts as a format were featured more widely than theater sets, reviews and retrospects- the concise form seems to be to the point, makes an impact and stays with you. This year, or should I say this week- I doubled up on my Oscar viewing extravaganza by adding documentaries to the mix. I felt I had to. Two of them were produced in Poland, and although I've never heard about these movies before (although at least one created some media buzz back home) and- despite having a busy week I'm really happy I decided to go. I'm if you will, a "documentary kind of a guy", I'm not into over intellectualized cinema or things that are overwhelmingly depressing, but this I liked.  Those who visit my blog for my insights on therapy, rehabilitation and special needs childhood, will appreciate "Our Course"- the entry from Poland. It's about a family coming to terms with the newborn baby's condition as it first comes home. What's unusual is the rarity of the condition itself, the mechanics and the work it requires, not so much what the parents actually go through as they learn to accept it and make it a part of their lives. The baby has Ondine's Curse- it must be hooked on to a machine that helps it breathe at nightime, every night, for the rest of your life. The condition is scary- as the parents say it themselves- every night their child is at risk of dying. If he falls asleep unsupervised he may never wake up. So we see machines and tubes and hear the ventilation noises but otherwise it's life as usual. I do think the director, who I believe is the father filming himself, his wife and the baby as they mostly talk and drink wine- could do a better job showing them as they come around. Although at the beginning they're afraid of both being able to pull it off and what the life will be like for their son, a lot of times they're exhausted, they're in fear when the equipment malfunctions and they're once scene when they discuss if he'd ever attempt suicide when he's older, as they go forward there's never a moment of doubt shown. Out of the Live Action Shorts I loved the three women stories, because they never turn out what you expect them to be. In "Aya" a woman practically impersonates a driver and drives a musician from an airport, across Israel on an impulse. Sally Hawkins is astonishing in "Phone Call", an amazing emotional exchange between a suicide hotline worker and a man planning to take his life. One strange element I focused on is that her character was working only with a notepad and her office had no computers or supervisors waiting to jump in. The HBO documentary- on the very same topic- although specifically a US veteran suicide hotline- that I watched the next day showed us more of the highly computerized mechanics of what it takes to safe a person rather than to just talk them down. It was strange and interesting to see the Live Action and the Documentary shorts days connected thematically. What I liked the most was the second Polish entry- Joanna. I've never seen the topic of death approached from such a heartwarming perspective. I don't know how else to explain it. As the woman was coming to terms with the finality of her days she wants to teach her son the most, live life to the fullest and equip him with as much love, knowledge and wisdom as she possibly can. Apparently, the woman was (as she since passed in 2012) a famous Polish blogger who documented her struggles with cancer and was told she had months to live although she actually was able to turn that into years. She has the most eloquent, involved conversations with her son as she wants to learn about him. What he feels, what he likes, how he thinks, what makes him tick. For a child this age (for a child any age really) he has a very elaborate, poetic vocabulary. But if you glance over his mother's blog that I must confess I did, it makes sense. The film doesn't shock us with tubes or pills or machines, although apparently Joanna herself was a controversial, in your face cancer activist. But that's not what the movie's about. It's also not about her husband, who as it turns out is a convicted rapist and many have accused him of exploiting her (they met only months before her diagnosis and her son is not his). Apparently he was scheduled to published a book, now canceled and the movie release stir up some controversy as well. She developed quite a following through her blog, many were rooting for her, helped to get resources for the film to be made. The release was held back for a few years. Now, with Joanna landing the Oscar nomination- and being one the most thought provoking and beautifully shot films in recent memories, a lot of people who felt personally invested in the project  now feel excluded, as make money off it. That shouldn't discourage you from seeing it. The film is about Joanna- living -not dying, her son, their talks and nature. There's no death and very little fear. It could have easily been set in a XIX century Polish village. It's a movie that makes you think, but not depress you and out of all of them it stayed with me the most

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